The Flower Yard. Book Review and Giveaway

By Arthur Parkinson

Published by Kyle Books

Hardback, 208 pages. RRP £22

ISBN 978-0-85783-917-6

Open the pages of The Flower Yard and you’ll enter a world full of exotic parrot tulips, jewel-coloured dahlias- and flamingos…

You’ll learn much about creating flamboyant Venetian-coloured containers, but you’ll also hear about Caribbean flamingos. For the author, Arthur Parkinson, once had the choice between becoming a zookeeper and horticulture. He chose gardening, and a year’s training at Kew. But in his strange and colourful book, he says he hopes one day to go back to more zoological rather than horticultural pursuits.

To my mind, his latest book seems to combine the two loves of his life. The exotic parrot tulips, feathery grasses and plume-like dahlias are as colourful as birds. And to add to the effect, there’s often a fancy bantam – his other passion in life- nestled in amongst the plants.

Even his words have an avian ring to them. Parkinson talks about planting ‘a flock of dolly tubs’ in preference to acres of land.

“I am not, however, desperate for a larger garden. I find the challenge of conquering the restrictions of an urban environment hugely thrilling. I love small town gardens, by which I mean gardens where plants come first in abundance. I have no desire for endless herbaceous borders, which so easily become tired and full of perennial weeds. Give me a flock of dolly tubs any day, ideally on old bricks or York stone. An old orchard would be, admittedly, heaven though, for hens.”

Back on the subject of birds, Parkinson writes about his choice of colour for plants. Pink, he says can be too light and sickly: “Before you know it, pink can make the garden verge into the Barbie-doll section of Toys “R”Us, outcompeting the other colours.”

Parkinson’s garden was once described by a friend as ‘a path of pots.’ It is, in fact, only 5m (16ft) long and filled ‘cheek by jowel’ with containers on either side, leading to the front door. The book follows a year of growing to create specific displays of plants – one for each season.

One chapter is headed ‘Archipelagos of galvanised metal and terracotta’ and Parkinson says: “I garden in pots because I do not have a choice, but I rarely resent this as it is like having great living vases of growing flower arrangements. You can fill pots easily, cramming them with colour and textures, creating islands of flamboyance.”

Arthur Parkinson’s brick path to the front door features rows of galvanised pots full of seasonal colour.
Frizzle-feathered bantams feature in many of the garden photos. I believe Parkinson takes some of these with him when he travels to give flower arranging and planting demonstrations. The author appeared on BBC Gardeners’ World, and also assists Sarah Raven with her floristry. He previously worked for potter Emma Bridgewater, designing her acclaimed garden at the factory in Stoke-on-Trent.
Photo shows ‘Amazing Parrot’ tulips in full flight with tulips ‘Black Hero’, ‘Antraciet’ and ‘Black Parrot’ giving striking contrast.
Sweet peas for summer
Peony ‘Rubra Plena’ supported by woven hazel with a pigeon-sized and ‘very talkative’ little Belgian Barbu d’Uccle Millefleur bantam hen. The breed’s beard-like plumes often need to be washed!
An Instagram posting with the dahlia ‘Emory Paul’ which the author says, is “Like a flamingo wonderland croquet mallet, gorgeous in some ways but its flowers do look almost painfully ridiculous with some reaching the size of useless footballs upon what are quite tall stems.”

I’ve made lists of all the tulips and dahlias to grow for next spring and summer. I love the dark, rich colours he chooses. And now I need to nip out and find a supply of galvanised containers ASAP. Quite honestly, what Arthur Parkinson doesn’t know about planting in dolly tubs isn’t worth knowing. He’s opened a whole new beguiling world of colour, and I can’t wait to create my own ‘islands of flamboyance.’ If I can add the odd flamingo or two in there as well, I will.

The publishers have kindly sent one extra copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave comments below and one name will be randomly selected by computer. Thank you for reading.

Please note, my I-phone photos of the pages do not adequately capture the bright colours and brilliance of the original photos which were taken by the author.

Please check back at 6pm Sunday to see who has won the prize draw copy.

Hydrangeas – book review and 1 copy to give away

HYDRANGEAS

By Naomi Slade

Published by Pavilion Books 9th July

RRP £25.00 hardback 239 pages

Photography: Georgianna Lane

ISBN 978-1-911641-23-0

Photo: my i-phone photo of Hydrangea Bluebird from Naomi Slade’s new book.

Having a beautiful book to read has helped me cope with the Covid Lockdown. Learning about favourite plants, and how to grow them, has given me something positive to focus on. And there is nothing more colourful and wonderfully inspiring than ‘Hydrangeas’ by Naomi Slade.

Photo: Hydrangea Polestar.

Naomi brings the subject of hydrangeas right up to date by focussing on the very latest plant breeding successes. Polestar, for example, only grows to a height of 50cm and is compact enough for a container. It’s one of the earliest to flower, and in my garden it’s in bloom from early June and continues right through to October. Even in winter, the papery, dried flower heads hold interest, as snow and frost settle on them. Truly, if you can have only one hydrangea, this would be the one. It would even fit in a window box or balcony garden.

Photo: Runaway Bride Snow White.

Runaway Bride Snow White, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant of the Year in 2018, produces flowers at the tips of the stems, like most other hydrangeas, and also from every leaf node along the stem. Naomi describes it as “airy and graceful, the modest green shrub adorned with pearls and strewn with confetti; a vision of purity that starts off a fresh, green-tinted white, and blushes to pink as maturity takes hold.”

I’ve always wanted to know the background to all these lovely varieties. Naomi selects the best hydrangeas and reveals how they were developed. Runaway Bride is the work of Japanese breeder Ushio Sakazaki who created many bedding plants, including the popular Surfinia petunias. He turned his attention to hydrangeas when he found a remote Asian species in the wild and, seeing its potential, crossed it with common Hydrangea macrophylla. The resulting plant produces wispy ‘lacecap’ flowers from late spring until Autumn. It makes a striking container plant, or would happily cascade over the top of a low wall.

As well as showcasing the latest hydrangeas, Naomi highlights heritage varieties such as the beautiful pale blue Otaksa. This cultivar dates back to the 1820s and was, rather romantically, named by Philipp Franz von Siebold after his Japanese wife. It is suggested the variety might have been naturally occurring and was discovered while Philipp worked as a physician and scientist for the Dutch East India Company in Japan. The couple had a daughter, Kusumoto Ine, who also became a practicing doctor – thought to be the first Japanese woman to have received medical training at this level.

It’s fascinating to learn then, that one of my favourite sky blue hydrangeas, Generale Vicomtesse de Vibraye, is a hybrid of H.m. ‘Otaksa’ crossed with H.m. ‘Rosea.’ Bred by Emile Mouillere in 1909.

The back story of how hydrangeas were discovered, hybridised, and sent to Britain as early as in the 1700s, adds interest to a plant that I’ve always loved, but rather taken for-granted. Naomi’s easy-to-read writing style carries you along and takes you on an international journey from North America, Japan, Korea, China and through Europe. And along the way you’ll learn that in Victorian times, a bunch of hydrangeas left on your doorstep implied the sender thought you a braggart! A rejected suitor might similarly send hydrangeas as a floral slap in the face and accusations of frigidity. Nothing surely would rescue the breakdown in that relationship!

Naomi captures the very essence of hydrangeas and what makes them special. I shall look at my own plants and appreciate them all the more, knowing where they have come from and what work has gone into growing them for today’s gardeners to enjoy.

NOTES: The publishers have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be included in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected by Pavilion Books.

Naomi Slade is a writer, broadcaster, author, consultant, speaker and photographer. A biologist by training, a naturalist by inclination, and with a lifelong love of plants, she writes regularly for national newspapers, magazines and other gardening media.

Georgianna Lane is a leading floral, garden and travel photographer whose work has been widely published internationally in books, magazines, calendars and greetings cards.

Hydrangeas features 50 of the most beautiful varieties from the elegant and airy to the bold and brilliant. There’s tips on growing in pots, hydrangeas as houseplants, feeding, propagating, pruning, and dealing with pests and diseases.

These are i-phone photos of pages of the book for the purposes of the review and, as such, do not do justice to the quality of the photography. Copyright of original photos: Georgianna Lane.

https://www.pavilionbooks.com/book/hydrangeas/

Naomi has a web book shop where there’s signed copies of all her books. There’s a 20 percent off offer on Hydrangeas at the moment, and books are available ahead of the 9th July publication date : http://www.naomislade.com/shop

Corokia- My Adventure. My BBC Garden Hour Book of the Week. Book Review

By MONA ABBOUD

Published by Wood Vale Publishing

144 pages. RRP £9.99

ISBN 978-1-5272-5591-3

Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw for a copy of the book.

Having something beautiful to focus on is a blessing at the moment. This week I’m learning all about Corokias, thanks to a new book by passionate gardener Mona Abboud. Corokias are New Zealand plants with leaves that resemble Mediterranean olives. They can be grown as low hedges, as a replacement for box hedging that’s been ravaged by blight or box tree caterpillar. As well as being useful, they are quite beautiful with names such as Frosted Chocolate, Sunsplash, Red Wonder, Silver Ghost, and my favourite, Coco. The undersides of leaves are always silver, but the colour of the surface of the leaf can be plum, bronze, silver and yellow. There are also very pretty variegated leaves.

Corokia Sunsplash -lit up with tiny yellow flowers.

Corokias produce small star-like flowers in spring and pea-size red, orange or nearly black berries in autumn.

Mona has appeared on BBC1 and More4 with her much-acclaimed garden created in Muswell Hill, London. She has a collection of 40 species of corokia and is a Plant Heritage National Collection holder. Her unusual and beautiful garden has won a gold medal from the London Gardens Society.

Mona has travelled all over the world in search of plants in what she describes as her “corokia adventure.” It’s impossible not to be caught up and swept along by her enthusiasm for these “largely unknown and undervalued” plants. Her passion for corokias endears her to growers and plant hunters in the uk and abroad. And it’s not surprising to hear her talk of being given rare and treasured plants and rooted cuttings of special varieties. Who could resist her. Mona’s enthusiasm is heartwarming and palpable.

Many of the photographs in Mona’s book come from her own remarkable garden. It’s amazing to see that the plants can be cloud pruned, topiarised, grown as parasols, or used as hedges and screens. I particularly like the idea of growing them as a multi-stem shrub, with spring bulbs and perennials as ground cover.

The well-illustrated book features sections on the history of corokias, uses and cultivation, the story of Mona’s garden, a study of her national collection and an in-depth description of the genus.

Mona’s determined quest to collect as many varieties as she could started in 2001 when she fell in love with Corokia x virgata Red Wonder growing in a friend’s garden by the sea in Suffolk. She says: “My passion for the genus has grown steadily since then, along with my collection, and this book is the latest manifestation of my evangelism for the genus.

“The aquisition of all forty currently available species and cultivars has certainly taken me on a fascinating and winding journey. ”

I highly recommend you join Mona on her journey via her stunning new book. It’s certainly an amazing adventure, and she is a lively and knowledgeable guide.

Books available from monasgarden.co.uk, and Amazon.

Please leave a comment below and names will be randomly selected for one free copy. So sorry, it’s uk only, due to postage costs.

Notes : Mona has written articles on corokias for the RHS magazines The Garden and The Plantsman, helping to spread the word about this attractive plant.

Monasgarden.co.uk : https://monasgarden.co.uk/?utm_source=monasgardencouk&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=urlredirect

Diary of a Modern Country Gardener

Secrets for Every Season Straight From the Potting Shed

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Orphans Publishing ISBN 9781903360422

Hardback. 248 pages. £20

Illustrations by Hannah Madden

Book review and prize draw. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw.

We are all standing at our house windows gazing on waterlogged, storm lashed gardens, aching to be outside gardening. It’s doesn’t matter what kind of gardening, anything, as long as we can run some compost through our fingers and see green shoots emerging. It’s been a long wet winter.

Luckily Tamsin Westhorpe has a beautiful new book which transports us immediately to gardening heaven- Stockton Bury in Herefordshire. It is a very welcome and timely escape.

Tamsin is the 5th generation to garden at her family’s farm. The four acre garden within the farm has fruit and vegetable plots, a stream and pond, ‘rooms’ with different planting themes and a dovecote dating back to the time of Henry 1. The land has been worked by the family for more than 100 years, and the much-acclaimed garden is open to the public.

In her new book, Diary of a Modern Country Gardener, Tamsin lets us into her world as we see her facing all kinds of gardening challenges, accompanied by lots of laughter.

There’s expert advice on growing cut flowers, staging summer garden parties, selecting and planting trees, planting bulbs, storing produce, keeping chickens, coppicing hazel and more. I particularly like the ‘tool kit’ panels detailing equipment and materials needed for the list of jobs suggested each month. A useful reminder before getting going on tasks. There’s nothing worse than starting something, and then having to stop to search for forgotten items to complete the project.

I also like the list of ‘must-have’ plants for each month. January suggests Cornus mas, crocus tommasinianus, cyclamen coum, eranthis hyemalis, hamamelis, hellebores, iris reticulata, mahonia, snowdrops, viburnum Dawn and narcissus Bowles Early Sulphur. You can almost smell these spring delights. There’s something cheerful on every page.

As we follow her daily life there’s lots of hints and tips on what to do and when. But this is much more than a ‘how to’ book. It’s a book about solving problems, dealing with gardening conundrums, interacting with people, and simply enjoying every single moment.

I love books where you can really hear the author’s voice. Tamsin’s voice is loud and clear and full of humour. Her stories are compelling. She makes you want to jump in a car and drive over to see what she’s getting up to today. You’d have a real good natter, and come away smiling and fired up with ideas to get going on your own plot. She’s that kind of person who makes anything feel possible.

Her diary does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a daily insight into the workings of a country garden. There are plenty of ‘secrets’ to be told. I won’t spoil them by retelling them here. But there’s a very interesting story about what she wears in the garden! Apparently her mother set the trend. You’ll have to read the book to find out more. It’s perfect escapism. And the one place you’ll all want to be is in Tamsin’s garden.

The book is beautifully produced and bound by well-respected Orphans Publishing, accompanied by truly gorgeous illustrations by artist Hannah Madden. A thing of beauty. Highly recommended. You’ll soon forget all about the weather! I promise.

Tamsin going through the proofs at Herefordshire Orphans Publishing.

Tamsin and Hannah Madden celebrating their first copy of the book.

Some pages from the book, taken with my i-phone camera. The quality of the photography is much better than I’ve managed to capture here.

About the author, taken with my i-phone camera.

Excerpts from the book for March

Excerpts for June

August

Tamsin Westhorpe’s diary was my book of the week on BBC Local Radio Gardening. It would make an excellent BBC Radio 4 read-aloud Book of the Week. A best seller, I think.

Thank you to Orphans Publishing for offering a free copy for our prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the draw. Please also comment if you do not wish to be entered in the competition, and let me know. Some of you may have already ordered a copy. The publishers will randomly select a winner. No cash prize alternative and usual rules apply.

Links: Tamsin Westhorpe https://www.tamsinwesthorpe.co.uk/

Orphans Publishing https://www.orphanspublishing.co.uk/

Stockton Bury http://www.stocktonbury.co.uk/

Garden Media Guild https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/

Karen gimson on twitter @kgimson

On instagram karengimson1 and Pinterest.

Thank you for reading. I am very grateful for your 150,000 page views, all kind follows and shares. Please share this on any social media platform. It all helps me immensely.

Dancing with Bees – A Journey Back to Nature

by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Book Review – and prize draw copy to win.

Chelsea Green Publishing

Hardback £20

Publication date: September 5th 2019

Photo: bees in my garden on a seashells cosmos flower.

In early spring, the first sound we hear when we wake up is the hum of bumble bees. They nest in the eaves above our bedroom window, and their comings and goings are a constant source of joy and interest. We worry when it’s cold and wet and they don’t emerge till late. We know when it’s going to be warm and sunny -they are up and about at dawn. Our bees are our own little barometers, and we would miss them if they didn’t arrive each year. Yet we realise we know little about them. We are ashamed to say we don’t know what type of bees they are. My grandfather, who loved nature and worked the land, would have known all about them. How I dearly wish I could ring him up and ask him 50 questions, as I did when I was a child.

Like so many others, we have been preoccupied with work, mortgages, family, children’s schoolwork, then university – then watching our children leave and make their way in the world. Suddenly we realise we have become somehow disconnected with the natural world. We haven’t had time to stop and study. It’s all going on around us, we just haven’t been taking enough notice.

Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s latest book, Dancing with Bees, is a heartwarming story about reconnecting with nature. Bridget regularly used to walk to work, up and over the Malvern Hills from West Malvern to Great Malvern along well-trodden paths edged with wild flowers. But she describes being “So preoccupied with the chattering in my own mind, and getting to work on time, that I was oblivious to the abundant and diverse wildlife afforded by this wonderful mosaic habitat that surrounded me.

“How had I fallen so out of touch with the natural world that I now noticed the changing seasons more by how many layers of clothing I needed to wear to keep me warm ( or cool) than by how many leaves the trees were wearing?”

Brigit is shocked to find she cannot confidently name more than half a dozen of the trees she has just walked past on her way to work. She has “stopped noticing them.”

Her well-written book documents Brigit’s personal journey to make up for lost time and re-embrace nature. Facts about nature- and bees in particular – are woven into a diary of her daily life, making a garden and planting an allotment. Brigit describes some of the bees she identifies and watches them as they forage for food and make nests.

“Having a relationship with the rest of nature is about opening our hearts, our minds, and ourselves, knowing that we can, if we wish, rekindle our lost connections, because somewhere deep inside us all, there lives a little spark of ‘wild’ just waiting to be ignited.”

Dancing with Bees is an engaging book, written from the heart. We can’t fail to be swept along by Brigit’s enthusiastic endeavour. We want to learn more, and she gives us the information we need in an easy to read format. At the same time, it’s a very personal story, and one we might all recognise. We could, and should, take more notice of our surroundings and take time out from our frantic busy lives to reconnect with the natural world around us. It’s a message I’m certainly going to take note of.

Notes:

About the author: Brigit Strawbridge Howard is a wildlife gardener and naturalist. Brigit writes, speaks and campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of native wild bees and other pollinating insects. She lives in North Dorset with her husband Rob.

Links: Dancing with Bees https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dancing-Bees-Brigit-Strawbridge-Howard/dp/1603588485

ISBN: 978 1 60358 848 5

Leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for one copy of Dancing with Bees. A name will be randomly selected, “pulled out of a hat” by the publishers and sent out by them. Please also leave a message if you do not want to be included. All comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this blog post. Thank you.